In this past week I read an article that reflected on the decline of the church in the UK and asked the question what does the future hold for the church in Australia. There is no doubt that in the next 10-20 years, a large number of churches will close and some denominations will probably cease to exist. However, despite this realistic outlook, it was a great article that did not gloss over the real issues and presented a perspective of challenge and hope for us today.
We have been looking at understanding the role of the church over the past few weeks and next week we return to look at the next section of Acts (from chapters 6-13).
This section of Acts certainly shows the church in its initial stages. However, unlike the church today, it was going from strength to strength. Numbers were increasing, new regions and nations were getting to hear the gospel, radical persecutors of God’s people were being converted and new churches were being planned. We know from history that over the coming years, this Acts church would continue to grow and completely transform the world, so that we in Australia almost 2,000 years later, reap the benefits of their gospel work.
Later this year, we will participate as a church in the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) which aims to gather information on those attending church. My feeling is that like in the UK, it will confirm the decline in sections of the church. Even if we as a church are growing, I wonder if we are growing at the same rate as population growth in our region.
So what should we be doing? The obvious answer is that if we are serious about seeking to serve and honour God, then we cannot be complacent or apathetic about this decline. Surely we want people to know Jesus as both their Saviour (who died on the cross to pay the debt of their sin to restore their relationship with God who loves them deeply) and Lord (we want God to be Lord over all creation including us).
Here are three things I notice about the early church that is not always very clear among those who call themselves “followers of Jesus” today.
- They had a clear commitment to “gossiping the gospel”
People in the early church were prepared to lay their life on the line to be able to share with people that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross to rescue people from their sin to restore them to a right relationship with God. They knew there was no other way by which people could be saved. (Acts 4:12, John 14:6)When was it that you last sought to tell someone about the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is to be expected that a denomination or local church will certainly die if the people in it do not know or seek to share the gospel with others.
- They had a clear commitment to listen to the Word of God
As you read the scriptures you should be spurred on not just listen to the word of God and do nothing in your personal life (James 1:22) but, like the early church, you should be committed to put the word of God into practice in your life, even if the world around you does not like what the Bible says.
- They had a clear commitment to seek to live in accordance to the Word of God
The passage from Romans 12 last week reminds us just how different God’s people lived in response to the mercy of God. So often today, people can gloss over the clear teaching of God’s word and ignore it in their lives.This is done both by individuals, churches and denominations as they fail to stand up for God’s word but they rather choose to blend in to the world. As we saw last week, they have been “squeezed into the mould of the world”.
The next NCLS might show we are growing as a local church but before we get too excited or complacent, let us remind ourselves of the huge number of people who live all around us who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. This should spur us on to be people who love to gossip the gospel, who delight to listen to the Word of God and who are committed to live according to the word we read, despite the direction our world might take.